Four mindfulness case studies

“Mindful leadership is about using mindful processes in a mindful culture to see, name, and work with uncertainty.”

This is an interesting article from Ellen Langer on the impact that mindfulness can have when employed by the leaders of organisations.

The article identifies three key ways in which mindful leaders approach uncertainty differently, which directly impacts the quality of strategic decisions that they make, leading to a better quality of outcomes for that organisation. These are: recognizing new categories, responding to the emergence of new categories and processing new information.

The article also identifies a number of organisational practices that can be employed to achieve these ends, namely Peter Senge’s inquiry process, the framework of multiple stakeholders, scenario planning, double loop learning, story busting, and effective scorecard design.

What the article doesn’t explicitly explore is whether there is any connection between MBSR (Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction) type programmes, and the level of (strategic) mindfulness that leaders display. It would be interesting to explore whether there is a connection here. It may well be that one or both of the authors has explored this connection already, so I will be digging a little bit deeper to see if this is the case. If anyone out there already knows of such studies or articles, it would be great to hear from you.

Revisiting Appreciative Inquiry

appreciative inquiryI was struck during a coaching session today by the fact that I’m not all that sure of the origins or exact principles that underlie appreciative inquiry, so I did a quick google search and found this wikipedia article.

It gives a really nice summary of the key principles behind the theory, and some hints at how it could be applied in organisations. In summary: appreciative inquiry “advocates collective inquiry into the best of what is, in order to imagine what could be, followed by collective design of a desired future state that is compelling and thus, does not require the use of incentives, coercion or persuasion for planned change to occur.” (Bushe)

In other words, it’s about focussing less on problems, and more on what’s working well, and then building on that.

PS For the academics among you, here’s a link to the original article that introduced the concept.

Amazing free Theory U course on edX

A recent discovery of mine is edX – a joint initiative by some of the top universities in the US, offering free online courses. I haven’t taken any yet, but at first glance it looks like there are some high quality offerings and that a lot of work has gone into the production of the videos and other materials. Looks a cut above some of the other free online courses out there – i.e. it’s not just a collection of lecture videos.

In particular, I was fascinated to see that they are offering a free course on Theory U, starting in Jan 2015. The course will be facilitated by Otto Scharmer himself (among others) and looks to be highly engaging. Sign up now!

Lessons on Balance from the Cricket Field

Practicing cricket yesterday, I became acutely aware of the importance of my balance while I was batting. Too much of my weight on the front foot, just before the ball was delivered, and I would rush at the ball. Too much weight to the offside and I would struggle to play any ball on leg stump. My challenge was to bring my weight back, from front to back foot and from off to leg side.

This translates well into my life. I have a tendency to lean forward – to rush into things and rush through things. It’s like I’m already envisioning the outcome before I’ve started putting the pieces together – the danger being that I want to move on to the next thing before I’ve finished the last.

The bodily sensation when I get my balance right at the crease is a sensation that I’d love to transplant into all aspects of my life – work, career, money, relationships. It’s a sensation of being centered, i.e. having my center of gravity in the same place as the middle of my body. I suspect that a lot of the time my center of gravity is just in front of me, literally and figuratively.

I can’t help thinking this is connected to a feeling that whatever I am doing, whatever I have (and, possibly most fundamentally, who I am) is not enough. And that moving my center of gravity away from myself is a way of avoiding a confrontation with that feeling of not-enough-ness (yes, inadequacy is a better word).

One of the key shifts that integral coaching looks to help people with is this achievement of balance. It seems a simple enough concept at first glance, but I worry that we oversimplify balance (it’s not just about debits and credits). The more I coach, the bigger the topic of balance starts to look to me.

That being said, getting a physical appreciation for what balance feels like is not a bad place to start, so dust off that old your cricket bat and get into a net, or get on to a yoga mat and revisit that tree pose.

Richard Jamieson is an Integral Coach and an Associate at Connemara.

What is the story you’re living out?

Coaching a client this week, I was struck by the power of the stories that we tell ourselves about who we are. Formed early on in our lives, our stories shape our relationships with others, and inform the strategies we use to make our way in the world.

Funny thing is, we grow into adults, our bodies and appearance change dramatically, we accumulate qualifications, possessions, and families and we develop the habits that mark us out as well functioning adults. But often our core story remains the same.

I’m not very smart. I’m not the confident one. I never seem to quite get it right. I try hard, but no one recognizes what I do.

Unfortunately, the story is often a limiting one. And it comes with an associated strategy.

If I’m not that smart, I’ll get ahead by working harder than anyone else. If I’m not that confident I’ll use my smarts to do well in an environment where people skills are not that important.

The more effective the strategy is, the harder it is to change later on.

The disconnect feels particularly strange when you start to realize that you see yourself very differently to how others see you. I heard a quote somewhere, “The last thing we learn is the impact we have on others.”

One way of understanding coaching is that it helps individuals to surface these stories, examine them, and explore the possibility of living into an alternative story.

What is the story you’re living out?

TEDx Table Mountain: Towards a Sustainable Relationship with the Earth

It’s finally here! Videos from TEDx Table Mountain have gone up on YouTube – here’s my talk on how we need to change the nature of our relationship with the earth in order to make any headway in combating climate change…

Please share / comment, I’d like to spread this as far and wide as possible! 🙂

You can see the rest of the TEDx Table Mountain talks here.

Coach-Client Partnership?

coaching partnershipThe subject of partnerships is one that has become very important to me, especially since starting my own business two years ago. Reflecting back on two years of running a small business, with three different partners, convinced me that possibly the most important thing in business is who you  partner with (or, as one friend of mine put it, also a business owner, whether you take on a partner at all).

The penny that dropped for me today was around coaching and partnerships. The point is often made that the coach-client relationship should be a partnership. To make this point clearer one can contrast it with other kinds of relationships: parent-child, doctor-patient, therapist-patient, teacher-student, mentor-mentee.

I guess the distinction is that coaching should be a partnership of equals, and there shouldn’t be a difference in rank between coach and client. However, in practice this is often difficult to achieve, I guess because the format is so similar to a mentor-mentee or therapist-patient relationship.

So the penny that dropped for me was essentially this: What would it be like if I approached my coaching relationships the way that I now approach potential business partnerships? What if I  only moved ahead with a coaching engagement if I was excited about working with the client, because of an alignment at some fundamental level, and because I truly believed we could produce exciting results by working together?

Comments anyone?


Do graduates expect too much, too soon?

graduates“Graduates arrive on day one expecting they’ll be CEO in 5 years!” This is a frustration that we often hear from companies who want to recruit and develop talented graduates, but worry that they’re just exacerbating the unrealistic expectations that these graduates arrive with.

From what we’ve heard from our clients, these expectations usually take two forms – the first is around the kinds of work and level of responsibility that graduates are given, and the second is around the pace and visibility of their career progression through the organization.

Graduates arrive in their first job having absorbed a lot of information and acquired a high degree of skill in a specific area, and many of them expect to be given the opportunity to apply these skills and knowledge straight away. When they are given basic, repetitive tasks to perform, they quickly become frustrated.

The second trend – around career progression – seems to be getting more acute as organizations move to flatter structures with fewer distinct steps on their corporate ladders. Compared to an education system in which there is a visible path of progression from term to term and from year to year, the workplace can sometimes feel like a treadmill with a bad view.

The response of some employers is to throw their hands up and opt not to employ graduates, or certainly not to give them any ‘special treatment’ once they arrive. However, in the context of South Africa’s talent profile, and the competition for that talent, this surely cannot be the right answer.

Our experience (and SAGRA’s research) has shown us that two of the most important factors in successfully integrating graduates are the training and development that they receive, and the degree to which they are helped to map out a career path. In the training and development interventions that we design and implement for our clients we focus specifically on managing the expectations of graduates, as well as connecting them with mentors who can help them map out their career paths.

But, as always at Connemara, we’re still on a learning curve. Comment below and let us know what you’ve noticed about the expectations of your graduate recruits, and how you manage those expectations.